The Circle of Ancient Iranian Studies
of the Western-Iranians
Dr. Oric Basirov
5 - 17 November 1998
AND SOUTHERN ROUTES
seems little doubt that Zoroastrianism spread to Western Iran using the trade
routes both to the north and to the south of the great central desert.
Significantly, these routes are not the same as the ones taken by the Medes and
Persians to arrive at the Iranian Plateau. The latter routes, it will be
remembered, were to the north and to the west of the Caspian Sea. It appears
that early in the eight century BC, the Median city of Raga (Nr. Tehran) became
the centre of the Zoroastrianism in the West. There is also enough evidence to
suggest that the new faith may have also reached the Persians in Anshân
independently, from Sistân or Kirmân, via the southern route.
PROBLEMS INVOLVED IN ZOROASTRIAN ARCHAEOLOGY
is, however, no direct and irrefutable evidence to verify the exact date of the
arrival of the eastern faith to Western Iran. Archaeology at this early stage is
of little help. The Iranian religion as yet possessed no temples or any written
liturgy. Its supreme "Wise Lord" and the lesser abstract deities did
not lend themselves to any artistic representation. Even the old anthropomorphic
gods of the old religion do not appear to have inspired any religious
iconography. None of its many rituals, such as the veneration of fire, for
example, had yet been artistically reproduced. It seems, therefore, that at that
early stage, there were hardly any religious symbolism or imagery. Moreover, by
banning burial, Zoroastrianism has denied the archaeologists an indispensable
tool of their profession, namely, tombs, graves, mausoleums, coffins,
sarcophagi, grave goods, and many other funerary paraphernalia.
ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE IN PREHISTORICAL PERIOD
theories, which tend to attest Zoroastrianism in pre-historical Western Iran are
highly controversial, as virtually any relevant direct evidence comes from the
ARCHAEOLOGICAL EVIDENCE IN HISTORICAL PERIOD
1) ZOROASTRIAN THEOPHORIC NAMES IN ACHAEMENIAN ROYAL FAMILY
earliest direct proof of the presence of Zoroastrianism in Western Iran comes
from the nomenclature of the Achaemenian royal family. Some of these names are
attested both in the Old Persian inscriptions, and in Greek records. The
earliest Zoroastrian name used by the royal family is the Avestan Visht?spa (NP,
Gosht?sp, Greek, Hystaspes) given around 600 BC to Cyrus the Great's second
cousin, the father of Darius the Great. Kavi Visht?spa is the first Eastern
Iranian king to be converted to Zoroastrianism by the prophet himself. Moreover,
it seems that the Achaemenians took this name directly from the Avesta, as it is
attested only in its original Avestic form. The Old Persian version would have
been *Vishtasa (cf., John/Ivan, Henry/Heimreich), but it was probably one of the
Eastern Iranian names which was not used by the Medes and Persians (cf. the
absence of the German name Helmut from the English nomenclature). The Avestan
Vishtaspa never became a popular name in Western Iran even after the arrival of
the eastern faith. It was not until well after the Arab invasion, when the
modern form, Goshtasp, gained some popularity. This was clearly inspired by the
Shahnama and the subsequent Iranian revisionism.
other Zoroastrian names, Hutaos? and Pishishyaothna, have also been attested in
the nomenclature of the Achaemenians. These also appear to have been taken
directly from the Avesta, and represent Kavi Vishtaspa's queen and one of his
son. They are rendered in Greek as "Atossa" and "Pissouthnes",
and represent the names of the elder daughter of Cyrus the Great, and a grandson
of Darius the Great respectively. Neither of theses names occurs again in the
West after the Achaemenian period. It is, therefore, reasonable to assume that,
as with Vishtaspa, they were not part of the Western Iranian nomenclature.
Pishishyaothna however, is only attested in the Shahnama as "Peshutan".
Elamite tablets of Persepolis, and the Aramaic documents yield, through
theophoric names, evidence for the veneration of a number of the Avestan Yazatas.
These, significantly, include the first three members of the exclusively
Zoroastrian Amesha Spentas (see Lecture 3), Vahu Manah (NP, Bahman), Asha
Vahushta (Ordibehesht), and Xshathra Vairya (Shahrivar). The absence of the
three other members of the Zoroastrian Heptad [Speta Armaiti (Esfand), Haurvatat
(Khordad), and Ameretat (Amordad) is not surprising, since they are female
Yazatas, and relatively few women's names have survived from this time.
is significant that among the numerous theophoric Old Persian names now known,
not one is compounded with that of a daiva (Avestan Daeva), i.e., the warlike
Indra and his fellows.
2) AHURAMAZDA AND THE DAIVAS
only divinity that Darius the Great names in his many inscriptions is
Zoroaster's god Ahura Mazdah, whom he knows as Ahuramazda. further, the king
venerates him in all orthodoxy as the creator of this world and what is good in
it: "A great god is Ahuramazda, who created this earth, who created the
sky, who created man, and who created happiness for man" (Naqsh-Rustam, a,
1-4). The mention here of "happiness" is strikingly Zoroastrian, since
in that religion happiness is regarded as a positive good, to be consciously
fostered against the Evil Spirit's weapon of grief and sorrow. This special
emphasis appears again when Darius instructs his people: "Whoever shall
worship Ahuramazda as long as he has strength, he will be happy, both living and
dead" (Behistun V, 18-20).
ethical element is also present in a similar declaration by his son, Xerxes, who
uses the significant word "atravan", the Old Persian equivalent of
Avestan ashavan, meaning "just" or "righteous" (NP, ardavan).
"The man who respects the law which Ahuramazda has established becomes
happy while living and atravan when dead" (Persepolis, h, 46-48). Xerxes'
words reflect a Vendidad passage where it is said of an offender: Living he is
not ashavan, dead he does not enjoy the Best Existence AParadise@ (Vendidad,
has also left an inscription stating: "There was a place where previously
Daivas were worshipped. Then by the will of Ahuramazda I destroyed that
sanctuary of Daivas, and I proclaimed: Daivas shall not be worshipped, where
earlier Daivas were worshipped, there I worshipped Ahuramazda" (Persepolis,
3) THE ICONOGRAPHY OF THE FIRE AND BARESMAN
reverence of fire by the Achaemenians is attested in many ways, and most
strikingly by the carving above the mausoleum of Darius the Great. This carving,
repeated above each of his successors' tombs, shows each Great King standing in
an attitude of reverence before a blazing fire raised in an alter. Blazing fire
in such a holder, often with worshippers beside it, became from then on a
standard element in Zoroastrian iconography. It appears on minor Achaemenian
carvings and seals, and a fixed device on the reverse of the Persis and Sasanian
recurrent device, also used from Achaemenian times onwards, was a worshipper
with the Baresman (Middle Persian, Barsom), the bundle of rods held during the
acts of worship both by the priest and by the well-instructed people. The
Baresman was apparently by origin a handful of twigs on which the sacrifice was
laid, and its use goes back (as Brahmanic parallels show) to proto-Indo-Iranian
times. Its use during the prayers, however, was retained by Zoroaster, and
formed an important element of the new religious iconography created by the
Achaemenians under the artistic influence of their western subjects.
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